Not only are Bongo Boy known for their excellent TV show, a rich and powerful wellspring of new artists, great music and cool videos for the consideration of the more discerning music fan, but they are also, of course, important as a record label. Again, an integral method of putting new, rising and under-the-radar acts, as well as some more established artists, together with their target audience and a broader music-loving community. There isn’t a single area of the music and creative arts that they are not helping to push forward to new horizons.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, they also collaborate with noted PR Agency FYC by MoPromo to bring you the annual FYC Album. The independent artists found on this 2-disc set are all those who were shortlisted for the 1st Voting Ballot by the Recording Academy™. In short, all bands and artists were selected for consideration for the Grammy Awards.
Usually, with such a vast and varied selection, I choose certain artists to write about who stand out, or best represent the album’s spirit. Here, however, the standards are so high, the field so broad, genre-hopping and eclectic, the music so vital in describing the current lay of the sonic land, that it seems only fair that I talk about each and every one of them, to some degree or another. So, without further ado…
Disc one comes in, not with a bang, but a gorgeously ambient, calm and soothing instrumental from Neuronium and One Light Away From You are made in the spirit of iconic acts such as Enya and Enigma; vocals are used as an extra layer of instrumentation, and the whole thing is a beautiful sliced of timeless, chill-out and gentle dance.
Rhonda Head’s Rain Dance moves things up a gear. The beats are still straight out of clubland, but this is music from the main room and perhaps a few hours earlier than what came before. Modern, compelling, infectious and of the moment. Especially if that moment is found on the dancefloor of one of the coolest underground clubs and probably somewhere in the Mediterranean.
Rock is back on the menu with Kick the Wicked’s Spit It Out, an authentic slice of foot-on-the-monitor heads-down, no-nonsense, boogie some hard rock that rose its head in the seventies, flourished in the eighties and since then has merely moved with the times without needing to change a whole lot. Proof of the adage, if it aint broke, don’t fix it.
Incidentally, rock music, in many forms, is present here. Gar & Myke’s International Chaos is old-school R&B spruced up for the modern audience; the NEW Bardot‘s gives us a real groover and mover with the infectious, low-slung and sleazy vibes of (Just) Another Dance in the City and Oblivea hook up with The Last Obelisk for The Crash, a more alt-rock take on the genre and a reminder that even rock and roll still has places to explore. Grit’s Guitar instrumental version of Cry Me A River is a sublime six-string workout, and Artic Baba’s Mr Crazy is poised, pop-rock done to perfection.
Big Sky is funky and full of life but leaning into some neat rhythm and blues vibes as if Patrick McLaughlin is channelling both Prince and Muddy Waters simultaneously, which is one heck of a combination. Studeo, as always, continues to defy easy categorization, and Silence is both epic and accessible, slightly progressive and yet brilliantly pop-aware; Clark Ford pursues a brilliant mix of gospel harmonies, pop lilts, and country-rock grooves all in one brilliant song, I Won’t Give Up On You and Eugine Jones’ Sitting At The Bar is well titled, soulful, jazz-infused music that evokes the sophistication and seduction of hanging out in a classy uptown bar. She returns on disc two with the Sade-esque As Long As, a reference point that carried a lot of weight in my book.
Also found on this disc is E.G. Holmes Warm, an understated and ornate neo-soul ballad built on heart-string tugging piano and imploring vocals, and Alex Otey’s Back To Feeling Fine reflects the sort of conscious soul that the likes of Curtis Mayfield or Sly and the Family Stone were such masters of.
And that is only the first disc!
And if that first offering ticks many boxes with the more obvious and easily identified genres, disc two is more exploratory and off the beaten track.
Tess Remy’s Schumaker, composed by Kitt Wakely, is a gorgeous solo cello piece, reminding us that music doesn’t have to be about weight, volume and complexity. Sometimes the simple lines and fragility of a piece make the biggest impression. Similarly, Lisa Swerdlow’s A Rhapsody Lives in You is a chiming and charming dance of piano notes. Inner Peace from Anaya Music combines chilled and restrained piano and subtle and supple string washes. So, when Sheba The Mississippi Queen turns the corner with the bluesy and blustering Beg, Borrow and Steal, we have gone from one end of the spectrum to the other, from the sublime to the rootsy, from the angelic to the earthy!
Samba Del Sol from Aaron Arinita and Eastbound is, as the name suggests, a sweet, sensual and shuffling slice of Latin music, again, a reminder that perhaps the music industry has, in the past, focused too much on western music and that the winds of change and the embrace of a wider musical world is much needed. Albums such as this are certainly helping to usher in that change of attitude.
Soul and gospel, two genres which are never far removed from each other, entwine on Yocontalie Jackson’s Lord Prepare Me To Be a Sanctuary, a vocal performance that will linger in your mind and memory long after the record has stopped spinning, and Bible Belt Blues bring us The Only Way To Heaven, a spacious and dynamic blues song in the style of the genre’s originators. When I say space, I mean real space; there are times when all you seem to be listening to are atmosphere and anticipation, heart and emotion…as I said before, less is certainly more when done correctly.
Gar Francis is back with some good rocking music, and Too Far Gone is a song that looks you in the eye and dares you not to dance, cut a rug, flip your wig, throw some crazy shapes, or whatever term the kids are using today. Try it. You won’t be able to help yourself. Kick The Wicked also fall into that category, Blinded By The Lie being an 80’s infused, a stadium-ready slice of anthemic rock.
Underground Treehouse joins Clark Ford to Celebrate the Sun, a fantastic slice of 60’s inspired folk, a blend of hippy innocence and modern celebration, simple acoustic and lush sonics. Helen O’Shea gives us Beautiful You featuring Yancyabril, a clever pop ballad but one that is cleverer than such a label implies. It shimmers and shines, the vocals relaxed and relatable, the music understated yet incandescent.
And this second disc plays out as it came in, understated and vibrant. Kisahkihitin, I Love You is chanting and celebratory, a prayer-like combination of song and spoken word, a blend of the New Age and the primal past. Similarly, Grayhawk rounds things off in fine and refined style, A Tutu Pele Goddess again feeling like something from another world, at least not the face paced and throwaway world we most identify with.
If nothing else, this compilation reminds us of how diverse the music world is, how exciting and exploratory, and how awesome and eclectic. If it compels a few of you to leave your musical comfort zones for a while and embrace the new, it has done its job. Fantastic new music is being made all the time; this is all the proof you need.